In the 3rd through 8th grades, students meet three periods per week for science – two of those periods scheduled back-to-back to allow for extended laboratory experiences. In general, lab periods involve an activity, model, or experiment to engage students in the “doing” of science, while the third class involves more content-oriented instruction designed to illuminate the topic currently under investigation.
Each year begins with a review of the principles guiding all scientific disciplines, after which the focus shifts to developmentally-appropriate units in life science, physical science, and earth science. Content within each unit follows specific recommendations of the National Science Education Standards, while each unit is also approached through the lens of the year’s Central Study theme. An inquiry-based approach allows students to develop problem solving skills as they formulate questions and hypotheses, plan experiments, systematically record observations, interpret and analyze data, draw conclusions, and communicate their results. Project-based and hands-on learning are part of this approach, as well as the integration of science, technology, engineering, art, and math education. Mathematical application plays an important role as students determine the reasonableness of estimates and measurements using a variety of instruments. Class discussions invite students to raise questions about the world around them and to discover that science is not merely a collection of facts, but a process of thinking about and investigating the world in which we live.
Units of study include buoyancy, the structure and properties of matter, soil and plant structure, rocks and minerals, sound, forensics, consumer science, simple machines, and the physics of race cars. Physical science content will include exploration in sublimation, evaporation, condensation, colloids, polymers, volume and mass. Scientific Process plays an integral part here as students develop strategies and skills for information gathering and problem solving using appropriate tools and technologies. Students create their own science journal that shows a clear record of observations, and summarizes and communicates findings in a succinct and understandable way.